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Baking All Year Round: Holidays and Special Occasions

Rosanna Pansino. Atria, $29.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7982-2

Pansino’s second cookbook (after The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook) is a delightful celebration of themed baked goods suitable for a myriad of occasions, including baby showers, birthdays, and religious holidays. Throughout, Pansino creatively utilizes store-bought candies for her confections: she uses Reese’s Pieces to create corn kernels for harvest corn–shaped peanut butter cookies; mini Cadbury eggs are painted to look like baby chicks for chocolate-coconut nest cookies; and Tootsie Rolls are formed into mini grilled hamburgers atop BBQ Grill Cupcakes (for Father’s Day). Many of the recipes require careful attention, such as Save-the-Date lemon sablé cookies (imprinted with a calendar and an event date), Conversation Heart petits fours, and a spiced reindeer-shaped cake, but all include step-by-step photographs. Pansino also includes several gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan recipes, such as wine gummy bears, strawberry champagne macarons, and salted whiskey caramels. Pansino’s anecdotes and family photos are as adorable as her culinary creations (“My elementary school teacher asked me what my favorite subject in school was and I answered ‘Snack Time!’ ”). From simpler projects like maple pecan blondies to more intricate ones like a beehive-shaped baby shower honey cake, this book will inspire bakers of all levels. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Meateater Fish and Game Cookbook

Steven Rinella, with Krista Ruane. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $35 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-59007-8

Rinella (The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game) is perhaps best known for his MeatEater podcasts and Netflix series, and in this insightful and straightforward look at cooking what one hunts, he proves to be as skilled with a pen as he is with a gun. “Wild game is wildly variable” he writes in the introduction, as he explains his “cut-based” method of cooking, in which it is less important to consider whether it is deer or antelope being prepared than it is to understand what part of the animal is being held to the fire. Starting with venison and ending with shellfish, the 100 recipes call upon all sizes of game, fowl, and fish. Rinella includes clear, photo-enhanced instructions on gutting, skinning, and butchering, along with taste charts that explain the differing flavors and textures of similar beasts. Recipes range from simple riffs on popular restaurant food, such as dove jalapeño poppers, to more complex dishes such as seared goose breast with apple, cherry, and sage chutney. The nose-to-tail approach incorporates everything from bullfrog legs (simmered in butter and wine) to duck hearts (grilled and served with a walnut pesto). Rinella is at the top of his game in this must-read cookbook for those seeking a taste of the wild. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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From the Land of Nightingales & Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen

Maryam Sinaiee. Interlink, $35 (318p) ISBN 978-1-62371-967-8

Blogger Sinaiee (of The Persian Fusion) waxes nostalgic about her childhood growing up in 1970s Tehran in this delightful cookbook. She begins with an introduction to Persian eating etiquette and the philosophy behind maintaining a balanced Ayurveda-like diet, and shares stories form her youth, such as distilling rosewater while visiting relatives outside the city. Recipes are arranged seasonally: spring offers rhubarb and onion soup, and summer fare includes a refreshing rosewater sorbet with rice noodles crisped in ice water. Fall begins with a monthlong celebration of Mithra, “the ancient Persian warrior god,” and includes such dishes as a lamb stew with dried lime, turmeric, and barberries, as well as meatballs stuffed with fried onions, currants, and walnuts. Winter is the season for dumpling soup, as well as a meal of rice, green lentils, and brown butter eggs. A concluding chapter on basics provides culinary building blocks: rice, two flatbreads, a variety of pickles and relishes, and a few year-round favorites, such as pan-fried potatoes. Sinaiee wraps up this excellent work with drinks (e.g., a caramel and vinegar cooler) and a helpful glossary of Farsi terms. Persian cuisine is made both approachable and alluring in this stellar first effort. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism (And Other Arguments for Economic Independence)

Kristen R. Ghodsee. Nation, $22 (240p) ISBN 978-1-56858-890-2

Eastern European studies professor Ghodsee (Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism) expands her viral New York Times op-ed into a passionate but reasoned feminist socialist manifesto for the 21st century. Drawing lessons from the history of women’s experiences under mid-20th-century state socialism and then under the capitalism that followed its collapse, she argues that “unregulated capitalism is bad for women, and if we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives.” Ghodsee devotes the most space to sexuality, arguing that in societies that have economic equality by gender, reproductive freedom, and social safety nets, women are freer to pursue their own desires. She also posits that the depression caused by living in a sexist society can squash heterosexual couples’ libido and male-female emotional connection, supporting this idea with data from studies of women in East and West Germany, Hungary, and Poland. And she delves into the benefits of full participation of women in the work force, especially in the public sector, supported by childcare and freedom from “statistical discrimination”; visible presence of women at top levels of government and business; and women’s participation in the political sphere. Pointing to successes not only in Communist countries but also in Scandinavian social democracies, Ghodsee’s treatise will be of interest to women becoming disillusioned with the capitalism under which they were raised. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War

Andrew Delbanco. Penguin Press, $30 (464p) ISBN 978-1-59420-405-0

Delbanco, an American studies professor at Columbia University, follows up 2012’s The Abolitionist Imagination with a more in-depth look at the divisive effects of slavery on America. He argues that the problem of “fugitive slaves”—the Constitution included a clause establishing the rights of slave holders to recover escaped slaves—brought slavery into sharp relief, contributing to the inevitability of the Civil War. He writes that well-publicized recaptures of escaped enslaved people kept the evils of slavery front and center for Northerners (who, he points out, were often as racist as Southerners though they opposed slavery), and Northern efforts to block the return of the South’s most valuable properties kept slavery at the forefront of Southern consciousness. Delbanco’s strength is in making accessible to modern readers the arguments of the Southern advocates for slavery and Northern abolitionists. He examines court cases, including the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision declaring that no slave had “rights which the white man was bound to respect”; books, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and the political and legislative strategies of both Northern and Southern leaders (insightfully drawing parallels to 21st-century political rhetoric). This well-documented and valuable work makes clear how slavery shaped the early American experience with effects that reverberate today. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, William Morris Endeavor. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Threshold: Emergency Responders on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Ieva Jusionyte. Univ. of California, $27.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-520-29718-0

In this combination anthropological analysis and memoir, Jusionyte explores, through the lens of her experience as a first responder for the Nogales, Ariz., fire department, the extensive human casualties of United States immigration policies and its weaponized border. As she writes, “rather than being ‘accidents’—unanticipated occurrences that happen unintentionally and result in damage—emergencies on the border are deliberately caused by government policies”: the border wall, which is tall and has a very sharp top, frequently results in amputated fingers and broken ankles for those who have jumped from heights of more than 20 feet. Jusionyte speaks to other first responders to discuss the “patterns” and “social trends” of injuries and disasters along the border. She visits a detention center for undocumented minors to tend to a teenager suffering from heat stroke after walking in the desert; travels to Tucson, Ariz., to explore the work of a group aiding the undocumented in crossing with food, water, and medical supplies; and writes movingly of the collaborative efforts between Nogales, in Arizona, and its counterpart across the border, Nogales, Sonora—the two towns’ fire departments have frequently called upon one another for aid. Jusionyte explores the sister towns bisected by the border from many angles in this illuminating and poignant exploration of a place and situation that are little discussed yet have significant implications for larger political discourse. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Language of Cats: How to Understand Your Cat for a Better, Happier Relationship

Susanne Schötz, trans. from the Swedish by Peter Kuras. Hanover Square, $22.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-335-01389-7

Those who love cats will also adore this book from phonetics professor Schötz. She insists that cats possess their own language (of sorts) and that, with self-awareness and patience, owners can discern some of what their pets are “saying.” For example, her cat Vimsan, after receiving a bowl of food, responds “brrrt,” for “thank you.” Her cat Rocky, also during food prep, “lifts himself up with his front paws against my knees, where he drawls a me-aw, which I take to mean, ‘Oh that smells good, I want some too!’ ” Shötz shares a serious discussion of her academic specialty, dispelling any notion that the book’s premise is sheer fancy. To that end, she provides a chart of the various consonants she’s observed cats making—approximants, fricatives, and laterals, for example—while readily conceding the inherent limits to human comprehension; “cats do not have a language that works like a human language” and “we cannot look something up in Cat.” Still, chances are good that this lively title will help cat lovers achieve a surprising and animating level of understanding with their house pet. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Anna Beer. Oneworld, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-78607-434-8

Cultural historian Beer (Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music) sheds light on the underattended elements of Walter Ralegh’s life in this well-told but questionably sourced biography. In addition to the oft-discussed vanished Roanoke colony and Ralegh’s later quest for gold in South America, this volume covers Ralegh’s less-known compassion for the natives he encountered on his voyages and the part he played in sophisticated Tudor politics (the ambitious, multitalented courtier briefly rivaled the famed earl of Essex in the Elizabethan court before losing his head—first figuratively, then literally—under the new Stuart king). While Ralegh comes through in this account as a Renaissance man of exploration, poetry, and politics, his charisma remains elusive, and the absence of vital citations, along with some factual errors (conflating the poet Thomas Wyatt with his son, misidentifying the relationship between the earls of Essex and Leicester) results in uncertainty regarding source reliability and bias. Beer’s understanding of Ralegh shines through in her analysis of his popular poetry, which he artfully used to attract Elizabeth I’s attention, and his bitter, far less successful work aimed at James I. The narrative’s poignant assessment of Ralegh’s desperate pleas of relevancy to James and his last, tragic grasp at greatness provides a strong finish. Beer reminds readers of Ralegh’s political rise, seafaring adventures, and fraught relationships with notable monarchs in an examination more literary than scholarly. Agent: Kirsty McLachlan, David Godwin Assoc. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time

Hilary Spurling. Knopf, $35 (480p) ISBN 978-0-525-52134-1

This comprehensive authorized biography from Spurling (Matisse: A Life) chronicles in meticulous detail the life and work of English novelist Anthony Powell (1905–2000), whose masterpiece is A Dance to the Music of Time. Published in 12 volumes between 1951 and 1975, this Proustian saga surveys the follies and foibles of hundreds of mostly privileged Britons over several decades through the eyes of its self-effacing narrator, Nicholas Jenkins. Of particular interest to Dance aficionados will be the models for such characters as Kenneth Widmerpool, the cycle’s egregious striver. A keen observer of the human comedy, Powell had an “innate genius for friendship,” as noted by V.S. Naipaul, whom Powell encouraged early in his career. Powell’s detractors, most notably Auberon Waugh, dismissed him as a snob and disparaged Dance, but his far more numerous admirers knew him as a reserved, often witty man devoted to his craft. Spurling, a longtime friend of her subject, wisely chooses to cover the last, relatively uneventful 25 years of his life in a postscript. This is not the place to start for those who have never read Powell, but his many American fans will be rewarded. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country

Pam Houston. Norton, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-24102-0

Houston (A Little More About Me), a professor of English at UC Davis, brings compassion, a deep sense of observation, and a profound sense of place to essays centered around the 120-acre ranch in the Colorado Rockies that serves as home base in her busy life of travel and academic commitments. Houston’s descriptions of ranch routine, which “heals me with its dailiness, its necessary rituals not one iota different than prayer,” leads her organically toward graceful, “unironic odes to nature.” Intimate but not sensationalized stories of Houston’s upbringing in an unstable suburban household with an abusive father and a neglectful, alcoholic mother set off her gratitude for an adult life lived in the midst of a sometimes perilous but beautiful landscape. “Ranch Almanac” entries that alternate with the essays offer delightful appreciations of the ranch’s other residents, including wolfhounds, lambs, chickens, and miniature donkeys; its human visitors, including her all-important “wood guy”; and the natural wonders visible there, notably including the Milky Way. Houston’s vision finds a solid place among the chronicles of quiet appreciation of the American wilderness, without the misanthropy that often accompanies the genre; her passion for the land and its inhabitants is irresistibly contagious. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 09/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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